How Do we Remember? (Cognitive Psychology)

cognitive psychology, memory, psychology of memory, long term memory
How can we use Cognitive Psychology to explain how we remember?

Today’s psychology blog post is on Cognitive psychology and we’ll be focusing on how we memory information as a lot of cognitive psychology is related to memory and other mental processes.

Therefore, focusing on the Long Term Memory, how do we remember things and how do we retrieve information that’s stored in the Long Term Memory?

Importance of Context:

When it comes to retrieving memories the condition under which the memories was encoded is only one side of the story because memory performance is affected by the conditions we try to retrieve the memories under as well.

Context reinstatement:

The physical context has no effect on memory if the mental perspective doesn’t change.

In fact, the physical setting only impacts memory indirectly and only if the physical setting helps us to recreate the setting in which the memory was encoded in. (Smith, 1979)

In other words, when the detectives take the victim back to the scene of the crime in TV Dramas. It probably doesn’t do much to the victim’s memory.

Memory traces:

These are important for the retrieval of information and the subsequent ‘remembering’ of information as memory traces are physical records of memories in the brain.

These are formed through maintenance rehearsal. This is where you keep rehearsing it and this keeps the information in the short-term memory for a while.

Although, this isn’t very effective for transferring the information into the long-term memory.

In addition, you have elaborative rehearsals. This is when you think about the information continually and you associate it with things that are already known.

A common example of this is a memory palace.

Levels of processing theory:

Another theory or aspect of memory that increases the likelihood of you remembering something is the levels of processing theory.

This theory looks at whether greater activity in processing leads to better memory.

For example, if you only read a list of words; shallow processing; then this leads to lower activity.

Whereas deep processing leads to higher activity. This is whether you read and imagine the words in the list in your mind.

Additionally, Laik and Lockhart (1972) found that after a delay. It’s easy to remember the deep processing words.

Another level of processing is called: deepest processing meaning does the word you’ve trying to remember fit into the sentence. This links back to elaborative rehearsal.

For instance, if you need to memory the word: cat.

Then it’s easier to remember the word in this sentence:

The cat ate the food.

Instead of the sentence:

The cat laid the eggs.


Interestingly, Rogers et al (1979) found that words heard with a self-referencing question were remembered three times more likely to be remembered compared to words without the self-referencing.

The reason for this finding is because of a certain type of deeper processing.

As the self-referencing allows you to make connections with your own life. In return, this creates more retrieval cues.

Meaning you’re more likely to remember the word dog when asked:

How’s your dog today?

Compared to being asked:

What’s that dog called again?

Multiple trace theory:

This theory proposes that we can make connections between multiple pieces of information.

Giving us multiple memory traces as well as it gives us multiple ways to retrieve the word or information. (Retrieval paths)

Memory dysfunction:

It is a great shame that memory isn’t perfect and that memory dysfunctions can occur. For example, amnesia means the loss of the ability to acquire or retain memories.

In addition, people who sadly suffer from retrograde amnesia have an inability to access old memories but an ability to form new memories.

Yet people who unfortunately suffer from anterograde amnesia can’t form new memories.

Source: Cognitive Psychology 2nd Edition (2020) Connor Whiteley, CGD Publishing

I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s cognitive psychology blog post and if you want to learn more about memory and other mental processes then please check out my book Cognitive Psychology.

Have a great day,


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